Wednesday, December 1, 2004

Mountain Shadows: Regional Fiction about the Adirondacks

Mountain Shadows, by Patricia Reiss Brooks, is an interesting regional historical fiction novel that highlights a unique period in American history. Through the setting – upper New York State in 1926 – we get a look at both the Prohibition-era "rum runners" and the tuberculosis "cure cottages" of Saranac Lake.

Irish Catholic Joe Devlin struggles to pay for his wife’s ever-increasing medical bills at a cure cottage. Along the way he ends up working with the rum runners, leading a very confused double-life –a mechanic at the Club in Lake Placid during the week, a rum runner going up to Canada on weekends, mixed in with visits to his sick wife.

The regional history research is outstanding, particularly about the troopers’ special unit and their escapades with the "rum runners." The cure cottage scenes also portray the strange world of "lungers" sleeping outside on porches while enjoying the carefree, morally loose "Roaring Twenties." Mountain Shadows doesn’t really elaborate on the history (prior to 1925) of the tuberculosis "cure" in Saranac Lake, or of the detailed care available at the sanatoriums. Rather, the story gives a glimpse at one sample "cure cottage," and what daily life may have been like, complete with the list of "the rules" the patients followed. The overall climate, the special community feeling, of Saranac Lake is also well contrasted with the outside world. Lake Placid in particular was quite clear about keeping the diseases out; the story even hints at the standard prejudice of the time, referencing a sign marked "no jews or lungers."

The author’s website,, has additional research material as well as background related to this novel.

The story itself is well-written, with a decent, suspenseful page-turning plot. Other than Joe, the characters are not all well-defined and seem rather stereotyped in some cases. The ending seems a bit rushed, as it takes the easiest way out of the many problems to get to a neat conclusion. Still, the story and overall dialog works great, keeping the story moving. Mountain Shadows is an entertaining read and interesting for its look at this unusual period of New York State history.